It’s been thirty days and 2,420 miles since I took delivery of my 2014 Accord EX-L V6 in Modern Steel. The big Honda had big shoes to fill; although it was, strictly speaking, a replacement for my dearly-departed, bent-like-a-pretzel 2009 Town Car, I knew from the moment I sat in it that I’d really be comparing it against my notorious sold-for-big-bucks-to-San-Francisco 2009 Audi S5 4.2. It makes sense: two FWD-platform coupes with six-speed manual transmissions, leather interiors, somewhere in the vicinity of three hundred horsepower, and some concessions both to practicality and emotion.
But before I could compare it to an Audi, I had to face a former co-worker of mine at Honda who drove to my house specifically to remind me that I had sworn that I would never, ever purchase anything built by the company’s North American operations.
Naturally, he drove his brand-new six-speed manual Civic EX Coupe over to deliver said reminder. How we laughed. When we’d left Marysville for good, on the same day a few years ago, he and I had both made that vow, only to independently break it within three days of each other.
Just one of those coincidences, I suppose. Or perhaps it’s a recognition of the fact that Honda appears to be coming back into its stride, one painful model revision at a time. The last Accord and Civic were not brilliant automobiles and that, combined with the company’s disturbing focus on its plus-size minivans and SUVs, appeared to indicate that Honda wanted nothing more than to be another Toyota, cranking out the most volume of reliable but charmless “product” possible. But now the crisis has passed and we’re back on track. Maybe.
In the first month of Accord ownership, I’ve averaged eighty miles per diem and I have had a few days where I put more than four hundred miles on the G-Shock-style center instrument display. Any minute now I’ll have to have it serviced for the first time, which means dealing with a Honda service department. Ugh. Can’t wait. Fearless prediction: for at least three hours of the near future, I’ll wish I’d bought a TSX instead.
It’s ironic, because in loaded-up six-cylinder form, the Accord has all the qualities you’d wish for in a modern Acura CL. To start with, it’s eerily quiet, presumably because of the Active Noise Cancellation and a wind-tunnel refinement of the previous-gen body shape. Most of the materials you see and touch are at least up to Acura spec, even if they don’t come close to my old Audi’s mix of deep-brown leather, real carbon fiber, cold-to-the-touch aluminum, and laser-fitted detailing. Seriously. If you want to know what the difference is between a $31,450 Honda coupe and a $61,900 Audi coupe, it’s readily apparent once you open the door and take a seat.
Once on the move, you’ll discover a similar gap in dynamics — but this time, it’s not all in the S5′s favor. The unique variant of the J35 engine fitted to manual Accords has been caught spinning dynos to the tune of 260 horsepower or more, leading to speculation that this might be the first underrated engine in the company’s history. Couple that with a curb weight decidedly south of the Audi’s and the net result is a coupe that sprints for the open holes in traffic with urgency befitting an S5 — or a 335i, come to think of it. Naturally, the steering wheel will fight you every step of the way. It’s a fast car, relatively speaking, and I’m not sure my 993 or Boxster S would drop it by much from a roll. Once the salt’s off the road, we’ll find out for sure.
The Coupe is also delightfully light on its feet. It simply refuses to display the sort of leaden inertia that the “small” German coupes have now. Only the Mercedes C250 has the same kind of delicacy on the move, and that’s at the cost of having a four-cylinder mill in the nose. Lateral grip and transition behavior are both good, even on broken pavement. I’ll run it around a racetrack in the near future. There’s no chance it will be a road course superstar — too much weight on the nose, not enough brake — but it should be at least as competent as most of the entry-luxury cars.
Long-time TTAC readers will recall that it was the seven-speaker stereo that pushed me over the EX-L edge, and I remain satisfied with that decision. It’s not a patch on the optional sound system in the S5, but it offers very competent Bluetooth integration and it is at least competent in daily usage. The touchscreen in the center console is convenient, although here again Audi’s MMI system is just a better, more thoroughly realized mousetrap.
So far I haven’t regretted leaving the two rear doors back at the Honda dealership. There’s enough room for the battleship-sized Britax Pinnacle child seat in the back, there’s enough room for a wheelchair and crutches in the trunk, and in a pinch you can put four grownups and a kid in the thing for short distances. It won’t carry my bass amp and SWR 4×12″ cabinet the way the Town Car did, but the rear seats fold and that makes it easier to do things like run a couple of boxed-up archtop guitars to the UPS Store.
A couple hundred miles spent behind a V6 Mustang on the way to Louisville two weeks ago made me consider long and hard whether I wouldn’t have been happier with one of those. After some thought, I decided that the Accord’s practicality advantages made it a much better idea for me. If I didn’t have two Porsches in the garage, I’d be tempted to put a GT500 in one of the slots for days when I’d rather chirp the back wheels in third than the fronts in second. Since I do have the Porkers, however, and although the V6 Mustang in Performance trim is a better dynamic proposition and considerably more handsome to boot, I’ll take the larger trunk, bigger rear seat, and considerable improvement in outward visibility that the Accord offers.
One area where the Honda simply blows my old Audi away is, of course, efficiency. Long mixed-use trips result in average consumption figures between 28 and 31mpg, with long freeway trips often showing 32. Around town, most trips are self-reported by the computer at around 23-26mpg, figures that seem to match up with my frequency of refueling. The S5, by contrast, rarely broke the twenty mark and would sometimes dip below ten for trips in the city. I never minded at the time; it was the price I willingly paid for the majestic swell of the direct-injected V-8′s powerband and the sound it made getting up to speed. This “EarthDreams” six can’t compete on an emotional level, but it’s about ninety percent of the performance and character for half the money.
That describes the Accord pretty well overall; most of what you’d expect from a prestige coupe, at half-price. My brief experience with the BMW 435i didn’t show me anything that would lead me to choose it over the Honda, and the current S5 has submitted to a cylinder-gelding that is not adequately reimbursed by the addition of a supercharger. (Save your angry posts about quarter-mile times; I know the 3.0 “T” is as good or better on paper, but in the metal it’s a depressing step down.) Think of this Ohio-built Honda as an ORIS watch: it possesses the bulk of the competitors’ virtues and it doesn’t command anything like the same price.
There are a few areas where the $20,000 Accord LX shines through the $31,450 EX-L veneer, however. There’s no automatic day-night rearview mirror, which seems like a deliberate way to toss a few bucks towards the dealers in the aftermarket. The passenger seat has no true mechanical memory and therefore has to be readjusted whenever you let someone in or out of the back seat. There’s room for bigger brakes and given the ease with which the Coupe speeds to 130+ the minute the road opens up, those bigger brakes should be make available. The decklid has no carpeted handle, the quick-shedding floormats are possibly the worst ones ever fitted to a motor vehicle, and there are no options for the rear seat passenger to adjust the temperature or volume of the air blowing her way.
Still, this is a tangible step above the rest of the mid-priced competition, from the old Chrysler 200 to the class-leading Camry. Only the Fusion really gives it a run for the money in terms of interior and exterior give-a-damn, and I defy you to find me a stick-shift V-6 Fusion anywhere. No, this is as good as it gets around thirty grand. After a month and a few thousand miles, I am more steadfast in that conviction than I was at the beginning of the adventure. d’Accord? D’accord.
A free TTAC shirt to the first US-located reader to identify the location for the solo photos. Offer not valid for my Facebook friends — JB